Montréal: En construction

July 25, 2017 § 2 Comments

The running joke in Montreal is that a traffic cone should be our municipal symbol.  From May to November or so annually, the streets of the metropole are a sea of traffic cones as workers frantically try to patch up roads thrashed by winter, and occasionally build something new.  And annually, Montrealers kvetch about construction.  As if it didn’t happen last summer and won’t happen next summer.


I was home last week, and it was the usual.  Actually it’s beyond the usual.  The city is awash in the orange beacons.  Roads are dug up everywhere.  But, something else occurred to me.  This is not the status quo, this is not business as usual for my city.  Instead, this is something new.  This year, 2017, marks the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1642.  It is also Canada’s 150th anniversary since Confederation in 1867.  This means that Montreal is seeing an infrastructural (re-)construction not seen since the late 1960s, in conjunction with Expo ’67, on Canada’s 100th anniversary.  That boon saw the highway complex around the city built, as well as the Pont Champlain.  Montreal also got its wonderful métro system out of that.  But this infrastructural boom coincided with deindustrialization and the decline of the urban core of the city.  Thus, what looked beautiful and shiny in 1967 had, by 2007, become decrepit and dodgy.  There was no money for proper upkeep, so things were patched together.

Take, for example, the Turcot Interchange in the west end of the city.  Chunks of concrete fell off it regularly, so there were these rather dodgy looking repair patches all over it.  The Pont Champlain had outlived its expected lifespan of about 50 years.  And the métro.  Wow.  While the trains still ran on time, more or less, and regularly, they were ancient.


The old Turcot Exchange. The different colourations of the concrete indicates patch work concrete, except, of course, for the rust and discolourations from water/ice.

But now, all this money is being showered on the city.  The Turcot is being taken down and replaced with a level interchange.  Work is on-going 24/7 on this.  The old McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), which had been jerry rigged in a collection of century old buildings on avenue des Pins on the side of Mont-Royal, has a beautiful new campus on the location of the old Glen Rail Yards in NDG.  The Pont Champlain is being replaced. Meanwhile, on the ride downtown on the Autoroute Bonaventure, on the A20 from the airport, one will find access to the downtown core blocked.  The Bonaventure, a raised highway that bisects Griffintown (buy my book!) is being knocked down to be replaced with an urban boulevard.  And while I am not entirely clear what the plans are for the Autoroute Ville-Marie under the downtown core, construction continues apace there.  Meanwhile, the Société de transport de Montréal has new cars on the métro! At least on the Orange line.  And, while they don’t actually feel air conditioned, they do have an effective air circulation system that, if you’ve ever experienced Montreal in the summer, you will appreciate.


Montreal’s new métro cars

So, for once, Montreal is not just being patched up. It is being rebuilt. For once, the powers-that-be have planned for the future of the city.  And one day, who knows when, the city will be radically rebuilt and will have perhaps the most modern infrastructure in Canada, if not North America.

Go figure.  No longer is my city a dilapidated, crumbling metropolis.


Research Note: The Pont Champlain

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pont_Champlain_(6)Nearly every time I drive over the Pont Champlain, I turn my brain off, and don’t think about the crumbling infrastructure of the bridge, I don’t think about how far it is down to the St. Lawrence.  I don’t think about how deep the river is.  I don’t think about the litres of ink spilled in the Montreal newspapers, in both official languages, about the bridge.  I don’t think about the fact that god-knows-how-many billion dollars are being spent to fix a bridge that needs replacing whilst the politicians in Ottawa and Quebec City continue to argue about how best to replace the bridge.  I don’t really think the bridge is going to fall down, of course.  But.

So it was a nice change of pace to be finishing off a chapter of The House of the Irish on the dissolution of Griffntown in the 1960s, and to come across documents I’ve collected from the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, as well as newspaper articles from The Star, The Gazette and La Presse from the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Pont Champlain was first opened, and it was a marvel of engineering, and then the city and federal government built the Autoroute Bonaventure into the city in preparation for Expo ’67.

The optimism! The excitement about a new bridge connecting Montreal to the South Shore! The excitement about the Bonaventure, which “sweeps majestically into the city, the river on one side, the skyline in front,” to quote one article from The Star.  Next time I cross the Champlain, I’ll try to think of that.

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